HELENA Fox's new play Bomb Happy brings to life the first-hand accounts of D-Day of the last five remaining York Normandy Veterans.

Presented by North Yorkshire company Everwitch Theatre, in partnership with Helmsley Arts Centre and York Normandy Veterans, the premiere will tour across Yorkshire this autumn from October 6 to November 24.

Bomb Happy, a term coined during the Second World War to describe conflict trauma, tells the story of the D-Day landings, and the battles to liberate Europe, from the verbatim view point of the five veterans when they were raw young conscripts: five ordinary lads from York, Leeds, Sheffield and London.

"Told in their own words, the play follows each veteran’s unique journey from D-Day to VE Day, and it also highlights the long-term impact of conflict stress/post-traumatic stress disorder on our Second World War veterans and their families," says Pickering writer and director Helena Fox.

York Press:

The York Normandy Veterans featured in Bomb Happy: Ken ‘Smudger’ Smith, left, Ken ‘Cookey’ Cooke, the late Dennis ‘Hank’ Haydock, Albert ‘Bert’ Barritt and the late George ‘Merry’ Meredith. Picture: BBC historian Paul Reed

Sadly, Dennis 'Hank' Haydock and George 'Merry' Meredith have passed away since the play was written, but the remaining three York Normandy Veterans, Ken ‘Cookey’ Cooke, Ken ‘Smudger’ Smith and Albert ‘Bert’ Barritt, are so determined to share their stories with as many people as possible while they still can that they will be touring with the show. So much so, they will attend all six performances, meeting the audience after each show.

Bomb Happy emerged from the York veterans voicing their concern that their experiences – a critical moment in British history where so many young men lost their lives – would die with them. "They were actively looking for a way to keep their memories alive and to honour those young men who never came home," says Helena.

"Having finally received the highest accolade for their bravery from the French Government over 70 years later in 2016, through the presentation of the Legion D’Honneur medal, the play also touches on the lifelong impact of D-Day on these incredible men, now in their nineties and living in Yorkshire."

York Press:

George Stagnell, as Cookey, front, and Thomas Lillywhite, as Bert, in rehearsal for Everwitch Theatre's Bomb Happy. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Working with dramaturgist Alex Chisholm, former associate director of West Yorkshire Playhouse, Helena set about interviewing and recording the memories of the five men, together with their wives, as well as two widows of late Normandy veterans.

“At that time, I had just finished writing a verbatim play, What The Sea Saw, documenting eye-witness accounts of the 1954 lifeboat disaster in Scarborough, and knew that Everwitch Theatre could support the veterans’ aim, of documenting and sharing their experiences, through a play," she recalls.

"Dennis Haydock was in the Coldstream Guards and it's wonderful to be able to develop the production at Helmsley Arts Centre, a stone’s throw from where he was stationed at Duncombe Park. Ken Cooke was in the Green Howards and Albert Barritt was in the East Yorkshire Regiment, so it’s fantastic to be touring the play here in Yorkshire."

York Press:

Joseph Sample on the first day of rehearsals for his role as Ken  ‘Smudger’ Smith in Bomb Happy. Picture: Michael J Oakes

The York Normandy Veterans will be portrayed by five young actors, including George Stagnell, in his professional debut fresh from the sell-out Edinburgh Fringe success of his one-man show, Private Peaceful, adapted for the stage from Michael Morpurgo's First World War story. Joining rehearsals in York and Helmsley straight from his Edinburgh run, Stagnell will play Cookey alongside Carl Wylie as Merry, Joseph Sample as Smudger, Thomas Lillywhite as Bert and Adam Bruce as Hank, while Beryl Nairn will complete the cast as Queenie.

"It has been, without doubt, the most humbling experience of my life to work with the York Normandy Veterans," says Helena. "They set off for France at such a young age and, over 70 years on, it's still with them. You could say in liberating Europe, and protecting Britain from invasion, they lost a certain freedom themselves, since they're never free from the conflicts they endured and the horror of losing comrades on a near-daily basis.”

York Press:

Adam Bruce rehearsing his role as Hank in Bomb Happy. Picture: Michael J Oakes

Bomb Happy's Yorkshire tour will visit Helmsley Arts Centre on October 6 (box office, 01439 771700); Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, October 13 (01748 823710); Pocklington Arts Centre, October 26 (01759 301547); Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax, November 10 (01422 349422); Junction, Goole, November 16 (01405 763652), and Otley Courthouse, November 24 (01943 467466). Shows start at 7.30pm, except Halifax at 7pm and Goole at 2.30pm. In addition, a private performance will take place at Manor CE Academy, York, courtesy of York Army Museum.

Helena Fox on her past theatre work:

"My previous verbatim script, What the Sea Saw, was funded by Arts Council England and New Writing North, and prior to returning to North Yorkshire I was education associate for the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, where I toured the award winning play Off The Level, as well as being a freelance writer and director," she says.

York Press:

Bomb Happy writer and director Helena Fox

"I came back to Yorkshire to focus on setting up Everwitch Theatre, a theatre company that brings intangible heritage to life through performance, seeking out Yorkshire stories of local and national significance."